The Coded Sex Diaries of John Maynard Keynes

(Parts of this post are probably not safe for work. Or children. Or goldfish. Actually, no. It’s totally okay for goldfish.)

As an after-effect of having spent several years in academia and several years with each other, Boyfriend and I sometimes find ourselves using jargon that has been shamelessly borrowed from one another’s professional repertoire. I use buzz words common to Economics that I’ve picked up over the years; he uses phrases he’s heard me utter in casual conversations with friends in the various Humanities. We usually resort to doing this as the final Hail Mary pass when we find ourselves losing an argument, in the hope that the ridiculousness of it will end the discussion. And in keeping with my hypocrisy on other such matters, I find it very frustrating when Boyfriend does this, but just as entertaining and satisfying when I do it. (I mean, seriously, don’t tell me to stop being “gender-prescriptive” when I try to micro-manage you in the kitchen, ok? You’ve probably been snacking all morning but I just came back from a run. Obviously, the marginal utility of whatever it is you’re cooking is way higher for me. So excuse me while I micro-manage.)

One of my favourite phrases from Economics folklore is John Maynard Keynes‘ famous statement, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” Of course, that isn’t the entirety of what Keynes said – he followed this line with an explanation of his philosophy and his opposition to institutional or classical economists who were against government intervention in the functioning of markets because they believed that’s how everything would sort itself out in the long run, even though it was evident that such an approach would hurt many people in the immediate future. But that first bit about how we’re all dead in the long run is a fantastic and versatile closer, and I’ve often used it to great effect. Like when Boyfriend is trying to get me to go to yoga class with him, and all I want to do is park myself on the couch and watch reruns of TV-shows-I-will-not-name-because-I’m-too-embarrassed-to-admit-I-watch-them. “I know you hate yoga,” he tries to argue, water bottle in hand and yoga mat slung over his shoulder. “But you know in the long run its effects are beneficial in so many ways.” “Sure,” I say, toying with the remote control. “But in the long run we’re all dead.” It makes little sense, if any at all, but Boyfriend’s reaction is always the same: he throws his up arms dramatically, and then leaves me alone to watch Project Runway. I mean Boardwalk Empire.

The other day, however, he responded to my usual, lazy drawl about how we’re going to be dead in the long run with this:

“Did you know John Maynard Keynes kept detailed sex diaries? He had a very elaborate code – maybe some kind of rating system – which no one’s been able to crack definitively?”

Woah! That’s like Sex and the City of the early 1900s. Just way more intelligent and way less heteronormative.

Turns out John Maynard Keynes, rock star of interventionist economics and champion against the evils of unbridled capitalism, was just as dedicated to keeping a record of his sexual adventures as he was to keeping tabs on big capital. As a young man he tabulated his exploits in two diaries. The first is a complete list of every sexual partner he had, usually by initials or nickname – DG for the artist Duncan Grant, “Tressider” for JT Sheppard – and on some occasions, when it was nothing more than a casual hook-up, by description: “Lift boy of Vauxhall” was in 1911, and “Jew boy” was in 1912. And he maintained this record with great sincerity and honesty – a dry spell is duly noted as a dry spell, and a year abundant with sexual partners is recognized as such. It’s also clear from this diary that Duncan Grant, whose initials appear often over the years, was a long term partner of sorts, even if their relationship was sporadic.

The second diary contains an elaborate code referring to the specific activities performed during these exploits. This is the more interesting one, because no one has been able to crack the code thus far. This diary is tabulated to the calendar rather than to specific people, suggesting that it is Keynes’ record of his own acts, and perhaps even a rating of his own performance or his satisfaction from the act. There are mainly three categories here: C, A, and W, and Keynes maintains a detailed account of the frequency of each one of them during specific periods of time.

No one knows for sure what C, A, and W are, but there is speculation galore – W for wanking? C for cruising? Copulating? Some people have even tried to arrive at inferences by comparing the numbers under each category. For instance, high frequencies of C correlate with low frequencies of W throughout the diary, suggesting that C is in fact copulation and W is wanking, because (and obviously this is a matter of opinion) when there is plenty of copulating, there’s little need for wanking. But then again, it’s possible C just stands for cocksucking. (Did I mention this post may not be safe for your kids to read?)

And that’s not even the end of it. Robert Skidelsky’s biography of Keynes (read about it here) talks about his circle of friends at Cambridge. Keynes became friends with Lytton Strachey at the society of Apostles and the two of them, along with Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf, Thoby Stephens, and Vanessa Bell formed the core of the famous Bloomsbury Group. You wonder what the dynamic of that group must have been like? Ah. Well, for starters, Lytton Strachey was Keynes’ sometimes lover, but he ended up proposing to Virginia Woolf. She, however, chose to marry Leonard Woolf while her sister, Vanessa, married Clive Bell. Keynes remained close to the Bells and the Woolfs, until he married the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova. (Dear Carrie Bradshaw: bisexuality isn’t just the “layover” on the way to “Gay Town.”) Apparently the group, especially Virginia and Vanessa, didn’t like Lopokova one bit. Virginia even went ahead and based the character of Rezia Warren Smith in Mrs. Dalloway on Lopokova – that’s how little she liked her. And oh – I almost forgot – in 1908 Keynes met Duncan Grant and, well, stole him from Lytton Strachey. Grant went on to become one of Keynes’ most enduring loves, but not before it caused some amount of jealousy in Strachey. The love, the hate, the intrigue, the sexual freedom, the conversations… Oh, what wouldn’t I give to have been a part of this circle.

Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf, and John Maynard Keynes. Oh, you know. Just another summer afternoon.

Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf, and John Maynard Keynes. Oh, you know. Just another summer afternoon. (Image source.)

It was a good time and a good place to be an intellectual and an academic, from the looks of it. It wasn’t such a great time to be gay or bisexual, though – Keynes kept most of his relationships before Lydia under wraps, which is probably what prompted the strict coding system. (Of course, people like Niall Ferguson – among many others, to be fair – who manage to tug the progress of humanity back with just one statement, make me wonder if there’s ever going to be a good time to be gay or bisexual.) But that’s probably also one of the reasons I was delighted to read about Keynes’ sexual diaries, and about his romantic and carnal adventures. This man was one of the greatest influences behind macroeconomic theory and policies, and he managed to live a colorful, fulfilling, and satisfying life in addition to that. He was the guy who would stand up for you against the onslaught of the unregulated market, but he would also be fun to hang out with. The kind of guy you could have long political conversations with, but also have as your drinking buddy and sexual-exploits-confidant.

The kind of guy who would watch the following video, laugh, maybe complain about how there weren’t enough men in it, and then shake a leg to the beat.

Really. He would shake a leg.

Really. He would shake a leg.

Want to know more? Go here. And here.

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